Murphy's Law: History Repeats Itself In Sweden

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April 26, 2016: Because of cutback in their military budget and sharp reduction in the number of young men conscripted each year the Swedish military has had to take some extraordinary measures to get enough men to volunteer for the military to provide an adequate defense against the growing Russian threat. This was demonstrated recently when an army recruiting team drove a CV90 armored vehicle into a supermarket parking lot on the island of Gotland to recruit enough locals to staff a new defense force for Gotland. The island used to have a military garrison but it was eliminated in the 1990s as Sweden dismantled its substantial Cold War era defense forces.

Gotland is the largest (at 3,200 square kilometers) of many Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. It had long been a key military target for any invaders, be they from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is gone but Russia has again become a threat once more and parliament authorized a Gotland defense force consisting of a 168 man infantry company and a 70 man tank company. The infantry would be full time soldiers while the tank company would be manned by reservists (part time soldiers.) The purpose of this small garrison is to make it impossible for the Russians to take control of Gotland quickly and without loss. The island has a population of 57,000 and during World War II and the Cold War that meant there were over 4,000 local reservists who were armed and organized to to deal with any attack. Times have changed and now the army has to do some energetic recruiting to get less than 200 local men to volunteer.

The Swedish made CV90 Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) was an impressive prop. This is a 22 ton tracked vehicle with a crew of three and room for eight passengers (usually infantrymen). The vehicle turret carries a 40mm autocannon and a coaxial 7.62mm machine-gun as well as a thermal imager for night operations.

The CV90 was needed in Gotland because by 2015 Swedish politicians came to agree with their generals and admirals that over two decades of reductions in their military has made the country unable to do much about any aggressive Russian moves. This despite the fact the Russian armed forces have been reduced 80 percent since 1991. That was still a million troops while by 2016 all Sweden had available was 38,000 troops. This includes 5,600 full timers, 10,500 reservists and 22,000 Home Guard. Most troops, namely the Home Guard, are another form of reserves but instead of reinforcing full time troops in wartime, the Home Guard are organized into 70 infantry battalions (each with 2-5 companies) that are assigned to areas where their part-time soldiers work and live. The Home Guard was created in 1940 and now depends on volunteers who are either former full time or reservist personnel who have at least three months of basic training and hold two four day long training exercises a year in which they practice mobilization and doing what they are expected to do in wartime. In addition most Home Guard companies (about 70 troops each) hold weekend training session ten times a year. The Home Guard take their training and readiness very seriously, especially when there is an obvious threat. In 1940 it was the Germans but after the 1945 it was the Russians, at least until 1991. Now the Russians are once more a threat.

After 2010 mandatory conscription was phased out. But now opinion polls show that over 70 percent of Swedes wanted conscription revived. As a result of this shift in public opinion the government is looking into how to do that. It won’t be the old type of conscription that took nearly all men who were physically, mentally and psychologically able, but a form of conscription that, while seen is fair, did not take everyone. In particular the new type of conscription wants to get the specialists the military needs but are currently in short supplies. That means men who are expert at various types of electronics and software as well as medical and any other unique skill the armed forces needs.

 

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